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The Chicago Symphony Chorus’s fifty-year history[1] began on September 22, 1957, when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra announced that Margaret Hillis, at Music Director Fritz Reiner’s invitation, would organize and train a symphony chorus. It was Reiner’s original intent to utilize the Chorus for two weeks of subscription concerts that season — George Frideric Handel’s Messiah in December and Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem in April. However, when Bruno Walter informed the Orchestra’s management that his March 1958 appearances would be his last in Chicago, board president Eric Oldberg insisted that Walter conduct Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem with the new Chorus. During that first season, it would have been logistically impossible for Hillis to audition and prepare a new Chorus for three major works scheduled to be performed within less than four months; as a result, the Apollo Chorus was engaged for the Christmas Messiah concerts.

The Chicago Symphony Chorus gave its informal debut at a private concert for donors on November 30, 1957. Reiner conducted the first half of the concert and Hillis took the podium for the second half — becoming the first woman to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She led the Orchestra and Chorus in the final section of Henry Purcell’s Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day, Randall Thompson’s Alleluia and William Billings’s Modern Music (both a cappella), and the Servants’ Chorus from Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.

Eighty-one-year-old Bruno Walter led the Chorus in its official debut on subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall on March 13 and 14, 1958, in performances of Mozart’s Requiem. A few weeks later on April 3, 4, and 8, 1958, Reiner himself led the Chorus for the first time in performances of Verdi’s Requiem.

The Chorus made its first commercial recording — Sergei Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky with Fritz Reiner conducting for RCA — with the Orchestra on March 7, 1959. The Chorus made its Ravinia Festival debut on July 9, 1960, in a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) conducted by CSO associate conductor and Ravinia Festival artistic director Walter Hendl. The Chorus made its Carnegie Hall debut on November 12, 1967, in Hans Werner Henze’s The Sicilian Muses and Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe with Jean Martinon conducting.

The Chorus first toured with the Orchestra to London and Salzburg in August 1989 for performances of Hector Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust with Sir Georg Solti conducting. Ten years later, the ensemble won critical acclaim for its performances of Arnold Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron under Pierre Boulez and Johannes Brahms’s A German Requiem under Daniel Barenboim with the Orchestra at the Berlin Festtage in April 1999.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings featuring the Chorus have won nine Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for best choral performance. These recordings include hallmarks of the choral repertoire, ranging from Verdi’s Requiem and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Missa solemnis to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor and two recordings of Brahms’s A German Requiem. The Chorus’s most recent recording, featuring the women of the Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe) in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 led by CSO Principal Conductor Bernard Haitink, was released in May 2007, as the first recording on the Orchestra’s label, CSO Resound[2].

Margaret Hillis led the Chorus as director for thirty-seven years; she retired in 1994. Duain Wolfe became the Chorus’s second director in June 1994.

Honors and awards

For all Grammy Award–winning recordings, the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis.

Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance

References

External links

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